Written by Master Coach Kim Leggett
Being able to cue effectively is a vital skill that every coach needs to master as it can mean the difference between a client learning a movement pattern correctly and them also either enjoying or hating a session. No matter what clientele you work with, coaching proper technique with good cues conveys to clients how in-tune you are to movement patterns and is one of the biggest things you’ll have to be comfortable with in your career.
Clients don’t just magically know how to perform [insert ANY compound lift] and often do not have much body awareness! It is our job to guide clients through new exercises in the best way possible that is going to get them learning it successfully. Knowing how to cue successfully is a skill that you can develop with practice and experience!
Here are some TIPS to keep in mind in order to CUE your clients more effectively:
Understand that not all clients LEARN in the same way
When teaching a new movement to our clients, our first point of call is often a ‘show-tell-do’ approach to engage visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles. Not everyone learns in the same way and knowing how each client is better able to learn a new movement and retain this information can make a session much more enjoyable. The different types of learning styles and how they learn most effectively are:
- VISUAL learners learn by seeing
- AUDITORY learners prefer to learn by listening and speaking
- READING/WRITING learners like to read and take notes on programs
- KINAESTHETIC learners prefer to move and learn by doing
Most coaching clients fall under this last category, but can be a combination of this and another learning style.
Avoid technical language and if you do, always EXPLAIN it
Your client knows you’re an expert in what you do, so you don’t need to prove it to them. Technical jargon can actually take away from your client learning a movement especially if they are a beginner as it can affect their confidence. Keeping things simple is going to ensure the client executes the exercise more accurately and safely. As a coach you will be able to assess your clients level and if they are a more advanced or immediate lifter, technical language may be more appropriate.
Choose what’s important and keep it SIMPLE
Let’s say, if you have a new client coming in to learn a hip hinge exercise – you want to see the hips going back, chest coming forward but instead to see their head coming up and shoulders aren’t retracted. Most new clients will never perform a new movement correctly, so don’t get stuck on that. Some clients will have no problem, but with others you’ll just have to focus on what’s most important for that day — driving the hips back and letting the chest come down.If you give the client too many things to focus on, you’ll both get frustrated and disappointed. So stick to one to two key points that you want them to nail when performing a new movement.
Try an EXTERNAL CUE instead of an internal cue
Research has shown that external cues are more valuable than internal (Walker, 2017). The idea of this is to give a client an external cue like “push the floor away,” as opposed to an internal one like “push your feet through the floor.” This ensures the clients thinks less about what’s taking place when learning a new movement pattern.
TAP the muscle you want to ACTIVATE
Knowing when to do this in order to elicit the client executing the movement properly takes experience. For example, kinaestethically cueing a client to drop their shoulders from shrugging by tapping them can actually worsen the issue. A better strategy to get a clients shoulders down would be to tap their lower and mid trapezius and cue them to pull their shoulders “away from their ears.”.
Know when to REGRESS
Unfortunately there will be times when a client will not be able to perform a movement no matter what cues you provide. When this happens – this doesn’t reflect on your coaching ability but rather the client just is not ready for that movement yet. This is where you must regress the exercise so the client can be successful and can start to feel what position their body needs to be in. At the end of the day, if your client just is not performing an exercise correctly do not get frustrated. Remember that not all clients learn in the same way and it is our role as coaches to find out what works best for each person – this takes time and practice!
Mastering good cueing can make all the difference in being an effective coach so give these tips a go and watch them change your sessions!
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1. Awla, H.A. (2014). Learning Styles and Their Relation to Teaching Styles. International Journal of Language and Linguistics, 2(3), 241.
2. Clean Health Fitness Institute. (2020). Performance PT Coach Certification Level 1.
3. NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine). 2017. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning.
4. Walker, O. (2017). Coaching Cues. Science Direct. Retrieved from: https://www.scienceforsport.com/coaching-cues/